Wonderful Words From Marsha Johnson!

This post is NOT by me, but by Master Waldorf Teacher Marsha Johnson, who lives in the Portland area.  She wrote this wonderful post this morning, I so encourage you to read it carefully, consider it, weigh it in your heart.  Please do go and join her Yahoo!group waldorfhomeeducators.  This is an excellent post, just excellent.  Please read Marsha Johnson’s wise words and enjoy!

“One recurring thread that emerges again and again in the various home schooling groups is the embracing of Info-Mation as Edu-Cation. This is an approach that relies on the passing along of facts and figures to the children, rather like filling up a blank sheet of paper with a long list of data. This kind of education is one that many parents themselves were exposed to as children in lower schools and is yet embraced by many institutions of higher learning.
I have jokingly referred to it as Information Vomitus. Particularly in graduate school, one absorbs mounds of information and must regurgitate it accurately within a time period, and those who can do this are considered ‘smart’.
As a species, some of us just love this habit. We have game shows where we love to quiz people on obscure and odd facts and see who can answer the most questions correctly. There are board games that focus on this aimless ‘art’, like Trivial Pursuit. That name does make me laugh at least the use of the word trivial. Small and meaningless.

As parents, we tend to veer unconsciously towards teaching our children in the way we ‘were taught’. This tendency is really one of the most dangerous and damaging stage in the life of the homeschooling family.

Why do I say this? Because the children of today, the millennial children, the Shining Ones, are very different than the previous generation of children, those born from the 1950s to the 1990s, when the Information Age really began to dominate. The idea was strewn about that one could improve a child’s IQ with exposure to this Factoid Education and that children were really blank slates whose minds could be sharpened and very soon after this time period began we started seeing massive testing of children as large population groups and lo and behold, a lot of stereotyping also began to show up in the statistics. All sorts of rather wicked and demeaning conclusions have been drawn from this kind of erroneous practice.

When we begin to ‘school’ children, and some are so anxious they start right away as soon as Baby can focus her eyes, we reach back into our own educational experiences and most often pull forward this kind of teaching that involves a lot of child sitting-parent speaking.

With a sense of humor here, often the children quickly teach the parent that this kind of education isn’t going to persist for too long. As children are naturally good and sweet and want to make us big people happy, they often accommodate us with love and grace, and put up with quite a bit of this kind of dreary boring presentation.

But some don’t. They rise up and run about and wiggle away, dancing, singing, going outside, done-with-that!, let’s have snack happy attitude that is probably the most logically kind response possible.

The type of education that really fits the developmental stage of the child most closely, from my own point of view, is Waldorf education. Within the very ‘bones’ of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies we find the most wonderful comprehension of how children are, what children need, and why we must approach the education of the child with an imaginative, artistic technique. A warm and inclusive attitude. A whole-child, integrated program that moves smoothly from moment to moment to create a kind of living-dream, wherein the child floats, soars, rests, and grows.

And this is probably the very opposite of the Info-Mation protocol, which calls mostly on the forces of the nerve-sense pole, the head, the hearing and memory and goes down dry as a desert rock in late summer.

Will you provide an education that inspires your child and yourself? Can you take a subject and find the Alice-In-Wonderland Rabbit Hole that will allow you to enter in a playful and unexpected fashion? How much of the school time is spent sitting and listening, or writing or copying? How much is spent moving, doing, trying, inventing, creating, cooperating, considering, digesting?

I am struck again and again by how passionate and devoted parents can be to a style of learning that would, well, invoke passion and interest in someone 35 years old or older? (smiles here) But a six year old is in his first decade, not the fourth, and taking the dry factual program to this tender age should really be some kind of crime.

Destroying a child’s imagination and tramping through their fairy land of fantasy with the bulldozers of ‘real life’ is actually a crime against childhood. We are surrounded by immense pressure from commercial marketers, manufacturers, media moguls, and those who want to benefit from premature aging. It is unbelievable, a very sophisticated and invisible force to destroy childhood and create an endless period of ‘tween’ and ‘teen’. Did you know the average age of video game players is actually 29 years old? This means there many older and younger right around 30 years of age who devote most of their free time to staring at screens.

One of the easiest ways to judge how a lesson is being received is to keep a close eye on the recipient. Rather than lose your adult self into the lovely land of facts and transmitting these facts, say a few words and watch the child. Allow for pauses and wait a bit. Does the child keep her attention focused on you, do the cheeks pink up, do the eyes sparkle, doe he sit forwards towards you, hanging on your words? Or does she fidget, grow pale, look down or elsewhere, try to rise and leave? Observe the child closely during the day, during play, during rest, during active vigorous exercise. Learn the color patterns of the child’s skin, the facial and body gestures. Configure your lessons in such a way that the child’s response is one of delight, close attention, desire to participate, and shows a healthy age appropriate expression.

Young children naturally move and use their bodies to learn. Incorporate this into each lesson and every day in your home teaching. Sitting is only one of many types of positions that the young child assumes in the natural exploration of the physical world. Adults tend to sit for the vast majority of each day in both work and play. There is much to be gained from moving often and finding physical ways to enhance the learning experiences.

The old saying `give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime’, is a perfect mantra for teaching the young human born in the early 2000s. Consider subject matter from the child’s point of view, figure out what you can do in your lessons that allow the child to use the three elements of self: head, heart, and hands. One of the greatest errors in current educational practice is the sole focus on the head learning, forcing young children to sit at tables for long days, wearying their spirits and graying their outlook. Early academic fatigue syndrome is rampant in our country and fortunately, almost 100 years ago, Rudolf Steiner illuminated a brilliant pathway of education that is more relevant today than ever before. Living artistic age-appropriate lessons, every day, naturally engaging and guaranteed to engender a life long love of learning.

Marsha Johnson, Spring 2009”

Thank you Marsha, for these words that I am holding in my heart,  thank you for being here and sharing with us,

Carrie

Is It Too Late?

I have had several mothers call me lately who are feeling what I call “the Waldorf guilt”.  They are looking, in most cases, at very verbal and sometimes physically aggressive 5 and 6 year old little girls and wondering if it is too late to start the Waldorf lifestyle with their little ones.  They feel the way they parented their children before may not have been as age and developmentally appropriate as it could have been.

First of all, please be very  easy with yourself if you find yourself in this situation.  We all are the best parents we can be with the information we have at the time.  Forgive yourself for any perceived inadequacies and move on.

Second, I would say it is never too late for the healing benefits of Waldorf.  However, I do think this takes sincere effort, planning, and change within the family.

Here are some thoughts that I think may be helpful if  you are trying to “switch” to a Waldorf  lifestyle for the benefit of your child’s health or to work with a very head-oriented child under the age of 7 or 8:

1.  Start small with consistent naptimes, bedtimes, and meal times.  Think foods made with your own hands and foods that are not far removed from what they really are….a whole apple as opposed to processed apple Pop-Tarts.  Think about the amount of sugar, dyes, additives your children are ingesting and work hard to limit those substances.

2.  Think about the concept of warmth.  I find many of these over-active, over-talkative little beings have a severe problem with lack of warmth, both intuitively from the family in an emotional or spiritual sense,  and also perhaps needing more physical warmth. 

For emotional or spiritual warmth:  If you meditate or pray, can you do that over your child after they go to sleep at night?  Soul warmth and energy flow there.   Can you laugh with your child, have fun, smile with your children?  Instead of all those words, how about a hug, a smile, a kiss?

If you feel your child needs more physical warmth, can you think about woolens for under their clothes, warm coats, hats, mittens?  Layering?  Does your child need more warmth in whatever space you have – warm colors in their room, layered rugs, curtains? 

3.  The very verbal child  under the age of 7 needs a parent who can stop talking to the child.  Lots of “Hhmm, I wonder that as well” kinds of comments, as opposed to the Doctoral Thesis on whatever the child is asking about.  Get your partner on board!  This is so important, and necessary.  If your partner is rather analytical, talk about the concept of doing the right thing at the right time.  You are not withholding knowledge of the world to the detriment of the small child, but rather waiting to bring it in at the right time when the child can process it well.  You are providing information in the right way in the right amount for the child’s age.

4.  I find for the most part the things that these children have said in the past has been given entirely too much weight.  I am not saying to ignore what your child says, or to ignore how your child says they feel!  But what I am saying is that YOU have to start to distinguish between is this random comment one that you should give weight to as a mother and then act upon or is it just that – a very random comment?  In this day and age and in our society we often take our children far too seriously about small things, (and probably not seriously enough about big things as they get older).

5.  This child needs HOURS a day outside to just be, and than a balancing of that with an activity that provides them quiet.  Have arts and crafts ready, woodworking, cooking projects, storytelling at the ready for these special, intimate moments.

6.  No media.  No media at all during this transformation.  No screens.   And model good behavior by cutting down on your screen time…can you do it?

7.  Plan some fun FAMILY activities with you, your partner, your child, siblings.  Sometimes these often serious and tense children need to see that, indeed, the family can have fun and laugh together.  It does not have to be something over the top and expensive – plan something like going hiking, roller skating, ice skating, planting a garden together, star watching.  Also do some projects around the house together so your child can see how a family works and plays together.

9. After you have a small rhythm going for the day –to -day kinds of things and weekly things, do start looking at festivals within the year.  (And if you need help with rhythm please do hit the rhythm tag in the tags box and all those posts will come up).    Not every family who celebrates festivals  celebrates religious ones, but Steiner did talk quite a bit about the importance of a spiritual life for the child.  Think about your own spiritual leanings and investigate this.   If you have no spiritual leanings at all, why not?  Perhaps a tradition completely different than the one you were raised with will speak to you.     Perhaps this is the inner work you are being called to do at this time. 

10.  Start working within yourself to be the change for the things you want to see in your family.  You set the tone for things in your family, you have a choice as to how you respond to things.  You don’t need to nag your partner about all this, but instead model, show, demonstrate, love.

Just a few thoughts to ponder,

Carrie

The Fabulous Five –Year -Old!

Five-year-olds are rather interesting to me.  Many mothers lament from reading the Gesell Institute books that while the young five-year-old should be in this “golden period”, their child is decidedly not.  A five-year-old closer to turning six may also be in a bit of disequilibrium as well.  Five is an age that I feel deserves a closer look beyond the whole “this is a golden age” view……

Let’s take a look at typical characteristics of the young five year old, according again to our friends at The Gesell Institute:

  • Typically enjoys life and looks on the sunny side.
  • Wants to do everything “just right.”
  • Mother is the center of the child’s world again- many five-year-olds would rather stay in the house with Mother than go out to play with friends.
  • Typically loves his house, his street, his neighborhood.
  • Does not especially want new and different.
  • This is typically seen as one of those “golden ages” of childhood development where the child is in a state of harmony.
  • If your child is a young five and not in a state of harmony, do not despair.  I have found that for many children, the disequilibrium that seems to accompany four can take until a child is five and a quarter to really work out.  I happily refer you to my posts regarding “Peaceful Life With a Four-Year-Old” and “Fantastic Four-Year-Old!”.  They will help you sort out some things that may be helpful to your young five-year-old.
  • The other thing to look at any time a child is behaving in such a way you do not love is to look to yourself and your home first.  Are you feeling calm?  What is going on in your life and in the life of your family?  Start with centering yourself.  Look at the post on this blog entitled  “Peaceful Life With A Four-Year-Old”   here  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/07/peaceful-life-with-a-four-year-old/  and the post before that written about the developmental characteristics of a four-year-old.  The other place to look would be in the tag section and hit the tag called “Parenting Challenges” – a prime example of this type of post that may be helpful is this one: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/13/smearing-peas/  and there are many,many others that may stimulate thoughts for your own personal situation.

Hang in there though, because equilibrium is coming! (At least for a little while!)

Five-and-a-half is a bit different, however.  Here are some of the developmental characteristics as listed in the Gesell Institute’s “Your Five-Year-Old” regarding the five-and-a-half-year-old:

  • Usually has a great readiness to go against what is asked or expected of him.
  • Brash, combative.
  • Can be hesitant, dawdling, indecisive or at the opposite extreme, demanding and explosive
  • May be sick quite a bit – headaches, colds, stomachaches, earaches.
  • May revert to toileting accidents.
  • Lots of tensional outlets – these are the behaviors that parents dislike such as repeatedly biting nails, head banging, increased nose picking, fidgeting, increased masturbation.
  • Restless
  • Difficulty grasping pencils, may lose visual orientation and reverse numbers or letters (Did I mention The Gesell Institute feels five is NOT a good age to teach reading or writing??)
  • May have lots of nightmares.

 

Think about living with your five-year-old with these things in mind: Rhythm, Rules, and a sense of Reverence.

Rhythm – Your rhythm should carry your day.  I cannot stress this enough.  Unless you want to be arguing all day long with your small child, you need a rhythm where you normally do this and then do that.  Think about how you want things done. If we always clean up after we play, then there is no arguing about it.  If sometimes mommy cleans up, sometimes we clean up together, sometimes friends help clean up and sometimes they don’t, then we are in for some trouble.  So, spend some time looking at your daily activities and what needs to happen before and after these activities to make life enjoyable for all.

Rules – Keep your rules simple – think of them as skills and behaviors that children that are trying to learn and master rather than these things where bad things happen when you cannot control your child.  Think about phrasing them very simply, generally, and positively.

Reverence – Look for moments when you can instill in your child a sense of reverence for the beauty in every day; those moments where you stop and look at something outside, those moments where you can all sing together; those moments where you stop to pray or meditate or have a moment of silence before a meal.  Think about the way you approach your own tasks – is it trying to get through the task as quickly as possible, or is it approaching the task that nourishes your family is undertaken with loving kindness?

Keep looking to yourself and your own habits.  Review your own negative habits; do you nag, berate, command, dominate, yell, shame or punish your child when it might be helpful to find positive alternatives?  Can you be calm and help your child physically follow through in a peaceful way with whatever you asked him or her to do?

Yours in Peace,

Carrie

Understanding the Six/Seven-Year Old Transformation

I had a question from a mother regarding a  six year old child (almost seven) who she felt was speaking disrespectfully not only to her but to other elders within the family.

I responded to her that I felt some of the passages from the book “You Are Not the Boss of Me!  Understanding the Six/Seven Year Old Transformation”  may be helpful to her; while much of this book is aimed at Waldorf Kindergarten teachers, I think it is still well-applicable to the home environment.

“This transition time, often called “first puberty” or “first adolescence” is a time when children go through an abundance of transformations.  These can bring symptoms of chaotic behavior manifesting in even the most well-adjusted children……..(if) we as caregivers can be prepared inwardly to see and meet the new behaviors of the children, then the children and their parents are more at ease in our presence. The children can then have a safe place to test out their newfound need to push for boundaries, we are braced to meet them and the parents can have trust that we truly understand their children.”  (Of course, this is written for classroom teachers, but I think the idea still stands.)

Sometime between the age of five and one half  to seven we begin to see that children are asking for something more from us in addition to our continued working out of imitation.”  (page 4)

There is the crux of it; changing from using imitation and modeling to a bit more direct of a disciplinary style.  This does not mean reasoning!  But it does mean a matter-of-fact, peaceful energy around the fact that you are the parent. 

From Page 8 – “One of the most common responses I’ve witnessed is the need of children to be the boss.  Parents, teachers, and their peers are no longer safe from being corrected at every mistake.  This, coupled with an arrival of a sense of time (before, after, and so on), can show itself at circle time when a child speeds up the verse to be finished before the others or on the morning walk when the child slows down her walking so that she can arrive way behind the others.  Going along with what everybody else is doing is no longer an unconscious priority……..A Matter of fact response is needed (then).  “Teachers know the rules of the land, “ or , as I have said to my own children. “That is my job. Your angel asked me to be your helper.”  Children benefit immensely by being met directly at this time, and a neutral, informing tone of voice can reassure them that the boundaries are still in place even though their whole being is in upheaval.  What a relief this is for them!”

This passage is specifically about boys in the kindergarten – “In the kindergarten we can see that boys need to know who is the “boss”. They easily establish a social pecking order with one strong “captain” at the top.  This behavior is even more evident during the six-year-old change.  It is important that an adult take on this role of “captain of the ship.”  There are far fewer problems with bullying and social dominance if it is very clear to the boys that the adult is the boss.  Boys need clear, strong boundaries and limits firmly established.  They do better when the rules of conduct are simple and do not require elaborate explanations.” (page 119)

From page 271 – “Remember, you, as the parent, are the child’s loving authority. Do not be afraid to claim that role.  Your guidance with strengthen, not suppress, your child’s will.  This child is reassured by a warm, confident adult who knows how things work in the world and can show him or her the way.”

Waldorf teachers of this child would think about carefully choosing the battle, trying to transform this situation into a game or offering assistance but also not being afraid to state things a very matter of fact manner regarding  what needs to happen.

The six and seven-year old transformation is the harbinger of what the seven to fourteen-year-old needs.    Many parents out there are using a very direct method of guidance with children younger than six, and this is putting the cart before the horse.  However, as your child moves closer to seven and into the second  seven year cycle, you can have confidence that a direct, clear rule is often called for and needed.

As adults, we do not feel happiness all the time and we do not always speak respectfully at all times to one another.  This child may need to have some other needs addressed – sleep, rhythm, diet, is the child getting sick, what is being modeled in the environment, is this child expending enough physical energy, is something unusual going on at home that is upsetting to the child, is the child involved in some sort of practical work that engages him – but there can also be a place for a simple sentence, and a place for the child to draw a picture to make retribution if he particularly hurt a family member’s feelings with his words.  No guilt trip, no judgment on the child or the child’s behavior in a wordy way.  Just a simple phrase of how we treat one another  and restitution by the child’s hands and body through movement and doing  if this is called for.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

For Parents of the Five to Seven Year Old

Melisa Nielsen over at A Little Garden Flower wrote a great response with some practical ideas to those of you starting to deal with the six and seven year old transformation (and there is a nice link to this blog in that post!  Thanks Melisa!)

http://waldorfjourney.typepad.com/a_journey_through_waldorf/2008/12/children-going-through-change-.html

Read and enjoy, I will have more to say about this important stage of childhood development after The Holy Nights are over.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

One of the 12 Senses: Warmth

This is an excellent article regarding one of Steiner’s 12 senses that is important developmentally for young children: warmth.

Please check out this link to read a great article on Warmth, Strength and Freedom:  http://tidewaterschool.blogspot.com/2008/12/warmth-strength-and-freedom-by-m.html

Happy, happy reading!!

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Take My Three Day Challenge

For those of you with children under the age of 7, have you ever thought how many times a day you are giving a directive to your child?  Even if it is a positively phrased directive, it is still a directive that causes a child to go up into his head and awakens the child into self-awareness.  Parents and teachers who understand child development from a Waldorf perspective believe that every time we bring a child into self-awareness and into the consciousness of before the seventh year, we are taking away energy that the child should be using for formation of the physical organs.  The belief is that this may not show up as harmful in the child’s life until they are adults.  Even if you do not believe this, I think we can all agree that in this fast-paced world, the stress and strain and viewing the small child as a miniature adult with just less experience is leading to incredible challenges of increased suicide rates and pyschological disorders in the teenaged years and beyond.  Think about how we parent and why we parent is really important!

Parenting is all about looking at the  doing the right thing at the right time within child development.  If you are providing lots of verbal directives to your small child, you are putting the cart before the horse by using a tool that is not really needed until later developmental stages. 

“But what do I use then?”  you cry. “Children need direct instruction!”

Rudolf Steiner did not think so. He wrote in his lecture, “Children Before the Seventh Year,” found in the book Soul Economy, the following passage about the first two and a half years:

“During the first two and a half years, children have a similar rapport with the mother or with others they are closely connected with as long as their attitude and conduct make this possible.  Then children become perfect mimics and imitators.  This imposes a moral duty on adults to be worthy of such imitation, which is far less comfortable then exerting one’s will on children.”

He then goes on to describe the period of the ages from two and a half through age five as one that “can be recognized externally by the emergence of an exceptionally vivid memory and wonderful imagination.  However, you must take great care when children develop these two faculties, since they are instrumental in building the soul.  Children continue to live by imitation, and therefore we should not attempt to make them remember things we choose.”

He ends with a few thoughts about the period from age five to age seven:

“Previously, unable to understand what they should or should not do, they could only imitate, but now, little by little, they begin to listen to and believe what adults say.  Only toward the fifth year is it possible to awaken a sense of right and wrong in children.  We can educate children correctly only by realizing that, during this first seven year period until the change of teeth, children live by imitation, and only gradually do they develop imagination and memory and a first belief in what adults say.”

So, if any of that resonates with you, come along with me and take my three day challenge.  For three days, try to bring a consciousness to the words you choose with your children.  How much chit chat do you do all day with your children?  Can you replace that with peaceful  humming or singing? 

How many directives do you give that could be either carried by your rhythm, done with no words at all (for example, instead of saying, “Now let’s brush our teeth!” could you just hand Little Johnny his toothbrush?) or could your words be phrased in a way that involves fantasy or movement?  For example, if you need your child to sit down at the table to eat, you could ask your baby bird to fly over to the table and sit in its nest.  “Mama Bird has food for you!”  Could you redirect your child into some sort of movement that involves their imagination that would satisfy the need for peace in your home?

Music through singing and the poetry of verses are wonderful ways to provide transitions throughout the day along with the strength of your rhythm.  Many of the old Mother Goose rhymes are fabulous for all parts of the daily routine.  Songs provide a peaceful energy and a needed source of warmth for the young child’s soul.

A mother asked, “What do I do if my child is doing something harmful to me or to another child? Don’t I need to use direct words then?”

I believe this depends on the age and temperament of the child.  As mentioned in other posts, many times the most effective method is to be able to physically move the child away from the situation or to physically follow through in a calm way.  You would never expect your words to be enough in a highly charged emotional situation for a child under 7.  A Complete and Unabridged Lecture on the Harms of Hurting Others is often not what is needed in the moment.

Perhaps in this case, helping the child to make amends after the emotions of the situation have decreased would be a most powerful means to redemption.  When we make a mistake, even an accidental mistake, we strive to make it right.  An excellent lesson for us all, no matter what our age.  We do not let this behavior slide, but we do work toward setting it all right again.

“What about giving my child a warning that an activity will change?  Don’t I need words then?”

If you are at home, your rhythm should carry many of the words you would otherwise use.  There may be older children of five or six that appreciate a warning, again dependent upon their temperament, and there may be some children that think they need to know everything that happens in advance but in reality it only makes them anxious and they talk of nothing else. 

These are all important questions, and perhaps this three day challenge will assist you in sorting out the answers for you and your family as you strive toward a more peaceful home.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.